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‘5G WiFi’ chips operate at up to 1.3Gbps

Jan 6, 2012 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 6 views

Broadcom announced four “5G WiFi” chips, which implement the 802.11ac draft specification to provide wireless networking at speeds up to 1.3Gbps. The BCM4360, BCM4352, BCM43526, and BCM43516 operate at 5GHz, employ 80MHz channel bandwidth, and use a “beamforming” feature to increase signal strength, the company says.

Amid all the hoopla over ultrabooks, tablets and smartphones that should dominate next week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), products that support the upcoming 802.11ac wireless standard are expected to also make a showing at the event.

Broadcom officials on Jan. 5 announced their official foray into the world of 5G WiFi, unveiling four new Wi-Fi chips that they'll feature at CES, which opens Jan. 10 in Las Vegas. At the same time, a host of other vendors, including NetGear and Buffalo Technology, are expected to show off 802.11ac-enabled wireless products.

Fueling the demand for the faster and more energy-efficient 802.11ac standard is the rapid growth in the use of wirelessly-connected mobile devices and the consumption of online digital content. According to the website — an informational site established by Broadcom — 802.11ac-enabled devices will be three times faster and up to six times more energy-efficient than those using the current 802.11n (fourth generation) standard.

The 802.11ac spec is still in its draft stages, and isn't expected to be finalized until the end of the year, as noted in a detailed primer AnandTech posted Jan. 5. Broadcom is obviously confident that should the standard be changed in any way, devices based on its chips can be made compliant with modified firmware (as happened with some early 802.11n products).

As AnandTech adds, 802.11ac is exclusively a 5GHz interface, achieving its zippy speed via a new modulation scheme and an 80MHz bandwidth (twice that of 802.11n). But Broadcom says its transceivers will also be able to operate at 2.4GHz, ensuring backward compatibility with previous Wi-Fi versions.

Thanks to the complicated numbering schemes used in IEEE standards, 802.11ac doesn't "sound" better than the earlier 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n. Hence, the "5G WiFi" moniker being promoted by Broadcom. (Proofreaders please note: The hyphen was official for previous versions of Wi-Fi, but has been dropped here.)

Broadcom's "5G WiFi" chips
(Click to enlarge)

Broadcom's initial 5G WiFi solutions are the BCM4360, BCM4352, BCM43526, and BCM43516. All are said to support 80MHz channel bandwidth, 256-QAM modulation, Low Density Parity Check (LDPC) codes, Space-Time Block (STBC) codes, and beamforming. (The latter feature boosts signal levels by compensating for phase shifts that can occur during transmission, the company says.)

According to Broadcom, the four chips are differentiated as follows:

  • The BCM4360 implements 3-stream 802.11ac specifications, delivering speeds up to 1.3Gbps. It has a PCI Express (PCIe) interface.
  • The BCM4352 and BCM43526 implement 2-stream 802.11ac specification, reaching up to 867Mbps. The BCM4352 supports PCIe, while the BCM43526 supports USB.
  • The BCM43516 offers a single-stream 802.11ac implementation, for speeds of up to 433 Mbps. It's offered only with a USB interface.

Broadcom says chips with the PCIe interface are "ideal for access points, routers, DSL/cable gateways and PC products." Chips using USB are intended for consumer electronics devices including televisions, set-top boxes and Blu-Ray players, the company adds.

"The exponential growth of digital media and wirelessly connected devices requires faster and more reliable ways to connect anytime, anywhere," Michael Hurlston, senior vice president of Broadcom's Mobile and Wireless Group, said in a statement. "5G WiFi solves this media explosion challenge. Broadcom's vast footprint in consumer electronics devices uniquely positions us to lead the transition to the next generation of WiFi."

Industry observers also expect the demand for faster wireless capabilities to ramp quickly. While there no 802.11ac-capable devices on the market now, the number of products that support the 5G WiFi standard will reach more than 1 billion by 2015, according to market research firm In-Stat.

In an early-2011 report, the In-Stat analysts said the growth will be driven by the demand for more speed. The 802.11ac standard will offer up to 1 Gigabit network speeds and other key features, they said. In addition, by 2015, all the mobile hot spot shipments will be 802.11ac-enabled, they said.

"The goal of 802.11ac is to provide data speeds much faster than 802.11n, with speeds of around 1G bps," Frank Dickson, vice president of research at In-Stat, stated at the time. He added the hope that 802.11ac products would be marketed by the end of 2012.

In a statement with the Broadcom announcement, Gartner analyst Mark Hung said he expects WiFi-enabled devices will grow from fewer than 1 billion units in 2010 to more than 3 billion in 2015.

"Given the current constraints of legacy 802.11 standards and the increased speed, capacity, coverage and battery life that 802.11ac offers, this next generation of Wi-Fi is poised for rapid growth across all product segments," Hung said. "802.11ac will be one of the most influential mobile and wireless technologies in the years to come."

Broadcom's announcement came with support from a wide range of vendors that are partnering with the company on its 802.11ac efforts. For example, David Soares, vice president and general manager of NetGear's Retail Business Unit, and Hajime Nakai, a director and board member at Buffalo, said their companies are working with Broadcom. So is Huawei, according to Chao Li, terminal access general manager for the networking company.

Other vendors whose statements suggested they will use Broadcom's 802.11ac chips include D-Link Systems, Lenovo, LG Electronics, Motorola, and ZTE.

Further information

According to Broadcom, its 5G WiFi solutions are sampling now to "early access partners" and will be demonstrated at CES. In its announcement, the chipmaker provided the following links for further information:

Jeffrey Burt is an eWEEK writer. Supplemental information was provided by Jonathan Angel.

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